We love small, quiet country roads but, because of roadworks on my chosen route, were driving on a reasonably main road through the Kentish countryside. The sun had set but the sky was not yet completely dark.
We both saw something in the road ahead and, in the darkening twilight, didn't have a true sense of scale and assumed it was a fox. As we approached we realised it was a deer, uncertain of which way to run, so I immediately braked to avoid it only for a second to crash through the hedgerow straight in front of the car.
Time did that surreal slow-motion thing which happens when the senses are suddenly, forcibly heightened, where you achieve instant, absolute clarity and perceive everything in minute detail: the thud as the deer hit the front of the car; the pressure of your foot on the brake pedal; pieces of the headlight unit flying off, briefly caught in the beam from the light they had been covering only milliseconds before; the look of panic in the deer's eyes as it bounced up on to the car bonnet, threatening to hit the windscreen, before dropping back to the road and skidding across the tarmac as though on ice; your heart hammering in your veins.
Much to our relief the deer got up and ran off albeit favouring its right rear leg - I hope it wasn't broken. I stopped at the first opportunity to assess the damage: the headlight unit smashed, front grill and bumper cracked and twisted, and the bonnet bent out of shape. What I was drawn to in my adrenaline fuelled state, however, was the deer's hairs caught in the bodywork. I couldn't see any blood so it had presumably just been pinched between joins in the metal and plastic and pulled out as momentum moved the animal away from us.
Then, as the adrenaline wore off and a degree of shock was no doubt kicking in, those same hairs were all I could see in my head - a not so subtle reminder, a finger of blame and trigger for self-imposed guilt despite it being a genuine accident.
It could have been so much worse.
For both us and the deer.
And now I can't sleep so am typing this in the hope that getting it out of my system will allow the nerves to settle and slumber to take me. I'll check the car properly in daylight tomorrow morning but, for now, there's nothing else I can do except hope the poor creature is okay.